Category Archives: Bishop Rubin Phillip

Daily Dispatch: Christian leaders won’t remain silent for Zuma

By ABONGILE MGAQELWA on October 12, 2013 

THE gospel according to President Jacob Zuma is being challenged by Christian leaders, as are the actions of his government.

Speaking not from the podium, but from the pulpit at the 33rd synod of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Giyani, Limpopo, last week Zuma told congregants: “If you don’t respect those in leadership, if you don’t respect authority then you are bordering on a curse.”

But these sentiments are in contrast to a clear voice of protest emanating from church leaders who are condemning alleged abuses by the government and affiliated members of the tripartite alliance.

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Statement of Solidarity from Bishop Rubin Phillip & the KwaZulu Natal Church Leaders’ Group

Destroying our lives – in Cato Crest

Today, we found ourselves where we have been too often before – at the Durban court awaiting a decision on bail for another shack dweller charged with public violence.  Again – bail denied; on what grounds it is not clear.

Why another bail hearing? What has led to us as clergy being here again this day?

Over the past few months and weeks we have heard:

·         of illegal evictions and demolition of homes in Cato Crest by the Land Invasion Unit;

·         of alleged fraudulent selling and allocation of houses in Cato Crest by local political leadership;

·         of several court interdicts secured by Abahlali protecting their homes, and the same interdicts despised and ignored by city officials and political leadership;

·         of intimidation by local ANC leadership and members in Cato Crest, of the legal teams that were attempting to give effect to the court's orders of restraining the city from demolishing people’s houses, and restraining them from further evictions, and instructing the city to rebuild people’s houses that were demolished;

·         of the shooting by the Land Invasion Unit and the SAPS of protesters asserting their rights – shot with rubber bullets and live ammunition.  We visited today Nkosinathi Mngomezulu and Luleka Makhwenkwana who are still in hospital recovering from their wounds.

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9 October Meeting with Church Leaders to Discuss Solidarity in the Wake of the Police Attack on AbM on 28 September

Abahlali baseMjondolo, Abahlalism, Church

Notes after an Abahlali baseMjondolo meeting with church leaders, at Kennedy Road, 9 October 2007.


This is a first draft. It seems very important to try and write down some of what is emerging – but somehow the writing seems very inadequate to capture the subtlety and wisdom of the encounter. I hope others who were there will take some time to add and correct this account. (It is not an attempt to write everything that was said.) I hope also that doing so feeds the movement – and perhaps helps church to be church.

The meeting did not happen in a vacuum and some of what went before is important to record. That history would need to include the strong place of people s faith and prayer throughout the life of Abahlali baseMjondolo, and the ongoing work of the churches sub-committee within the movement. At this particular meeting however, what was perhaps uppermost in our minds was the march of the 28th September, which had ended in the police unleashing unprovoked violence against the thousands of highly disciplined bahlali, and in the arrests of 14 members of the movement for public violence and violating the Gatherings Act . An eyewitness account of the events noted that: “When the police attacked this protest yesterday, church leaders had been leading the people in prayer and were standing at the front of the crowd – they were among the first to be thoroughly doused when the water cannon was turn on”.

In response to this attack on the people, some church leaders, most of whom had been at the march with Abahlali baseMjondolo, issued a public statement firmly condemning the police action and reiterating their commitment to solidarity with movement:

Police Violence in Sydenham, 28 September 2007: A Testimony by Church Leaders

We are appalled and deeply disturbed by the unprovoked violent and aggressive action of the SAPS at the public gathering organised by Abahlali baseMjondolo held in Sydenham, Durban on 28 September. In good conscience, we cannot remain silent in the face of the SAPS’s flagrant disregard of our country’s legal provision for our hard won right to express dissent, let alone their sheer disrespect of our common humanity as children of God.

As leaders in various churches and ecumenical organisations, we were present in the march organised by Abahlali, joining with them in their call for an end to the ongoing eviction and exclusion of the poor, and the destruction of their homes. The march was extremely well prepared, with the city officials being given ample notice, and arrangements having been made with the SAPS. The march was conducted in a disciplined manner, with the clear and stated intention being to deliver a memorandum of demands to the Mayor. Whilst the marchers were waiting for the Mayor to arrive to receive the memorandum, the SAPS chose to attack the people assembled at the agreed upon venue. We wish to state clearly as eyewitnesses, that prior to this attack by the police:

* no participant of the march threatened any violence, or threw, or threatened to throw, stones or sticks or any objects at the police, or any members of the public ;
* no orders were given by the police calling for the dispersal of the people assembled, nor were any instructions or warnings given by the police;
* no “warning shots” or anything of that nature were given by the police.

What we did experience, was a completely unprovoked violent attack by the SAPS on people gathered to submit their demands to the Mayor of our city. This thuggery is deeply disturbing, and even more so as it was led by senior officers of the SAPS. Instead of protecting members of society, the SAPS violated and betrayed their trust. We cannot allow such behaviour to go unchecked, and expect the leadership of the SAPS to be held accountable for such despicable behaviour.

It was with shock that we then learned of the audacity of the SAPS in charging 14 participants of the march with “violating the Gatherings Act” and with “public violence”. The only public violence experienced in Sydenham on 28 September was that inflicted by the SAPS. The attack of the SAPS on these residents leaves us outraged. In the face of this violent attack by the SAPS, and in keeping with our vocation as church, we will continue to stand alongside the poor as they struggle for the recognition of their own humanity and dignity. We cannot be silent whilst our brothers and sisters suffer such brutal injustice.

In Truth I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of my brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me… (Matthew 25:40).

Bishop Purity Malinga (Methodist Church of Southern Africa); Bishop Rubin Phillip (Anglican Church of Southern Africa); Rev. Dlamini ; Rev. Mavuso; Rev. Mtetwa; Rev. Ndlazi (United Congregational Church of Southern Africa); Brother Fillipo Mondini (Comboni Missionary); Dr. Douglas Dziva (KwaZulu Natal Christian Council); Dr. L. Ngoetjana (KwaZulu Natal Christian Council); Mr. David Ntseng (Church Land Programme); Mr. Graham Philpott (Church Land Programme).

Brother Filippo Mondini had also written after the march:

“Last Friday the institutions, especially Major Mlaba and the police, have again attempted to vandalize the humanity of the poor. The violence shown by the police is just one example of what happens when poor people speak for themselves. …Abahlali has shown again its strength with the thousands of people that the movement was able to mobilize. Among them also several religious and priests. The Churches are finally recognizing that to be at the side of Abahlali is something important, something that they cannot miss.

The presence of priests, pastors and religious, the presence of a bishop, do not add anything to the struggle of Abahlali. The movement and the righteousness of its cause do not need the Churches. On the contrary, it is Abahlali that is helping the Churches to be Church. Shack Dwellers, with the strength of their prophetic voice, are pointing at the Reign of God . When Shack Dwellers are struggling for houses, land, participation and democracy they are participating in God s dream for all humanity. God dreams of a world where nobody is exploited, where the goods of the earth are shared among all human beings. The Reign of God is not something that we have to expect after this life but it is something concrete and real. The struggle of Abahlali is making God s dream true and real. That is why nobody will break this movement. Moreover, whoever disrespects Abahlali disrespects God.”

These are powerful statements of church leadership finding church and God in the actions of movements of the poor. But not all responses of church institutions are the same (and indeed, we should not exaggerate the extent to which the institutional church responds at all). Even in the build-up to the march, as well as its aftermath, some others persistently offered to mediate on behalf of the movement, to convene and direct civil society support , and/or quietly questioned the strategies and leadership of Abahlali baseMjondolo. In this context, a meeting of the movement with church leaders cannot proceed naively assuming an unproblematic solidarity – it is also a continuation of the ongoing struggle of the poor to speak for themselves. In discussions prior to the planned meeting, some connected with the movement reflected that there is an important, and potentially useful difference between how some church leaders had responded after march (by partly at least asking How can I support? ) and the many other responses of FBO [Faith-Based Organisation] and NGO people who keep wanting to mediate with city on behalf of the movement. This distinction is crucial: the former ( How can I help? ) keeps open the possibility of AbM staying on the path it chooses and within the spaces of action where it is strong; the other (offers of mediation etc.) are an attempt to impose strategies and a politics where the movement is disempowered at the expense of giving power, prestige, and ultimately control, to outsiders like the NGOs and the churches. This critique of the mediation and advocacy approach is actually a big topic but for now we should at least make clear that:

* theologically and politically it is imperative that the poor and oppressed speak for themselves
* mediation and advocacy are sometimes appropriate when conditions are such that people truly cannot speak for themselves, but they are always at the expense of the voice of the poor and oppressed
* Abahlali baseMjondolo can and does speak and think for itself, so offers by civil society (including church leaders and FBOs) to mediate are not appropriate
* rather, those parts of civil society that really want to help, must start from some clear pre-conditions:
o that they respect the movement and the people;
o that they will act in ways that affirm the truth that the movement think, acts, and speaks for itself; and
o that they will act in ways that build the power of the movement to do so.
o (by implication: they will not act in ways that undermine or take away the movement s voice, or replace it with their own.).

What helped ensure that the initiative stayed with the movement for this particular meeting was making very clear who called it, who drove it, and who s agenda was on the table. Even the structure of the programme and the venue (at the crèche in Kennedy Road) for the meeting reflected this. After singing, prayers and watching video footage of the events at the march, the welcome and clarification of the purpose of the meeting was the responsibility of the movement leadership. This was to be followed by presentations by Abahlali and only thereafter presentations, in response, by the church leaders. After that, the meeting would move to think concretely about ways forward for supporting Abahlali.

The meeting

In his opening remarks, Abahlali baseMjondolo president, S bu Zikode said we are here to honour the presence of God in this place and in the people and in their struggle. He said that our wisdom is given by the Lord. We cannot act without the Lord. We are not too clever – the wisdom we have is God-given. In discussions like this, and in the actions of the movement, we define ourselves – we define ourselves in and through the presence of God. Our struggle, which is also and always our choosing to be truthful, is not divorced from God, and God is on our side. Our theologians tells us that God is not neutral but takes the side of the poor – and this is confirmed today when the church leaders are here at Kennedy Road – they have descended to this level where the people are rather than having a meeting in the City Hall or the offices of powerful. By the end of the meeting we should be able to say who is the church?, and what is the role of the church in the struggle and in our communities?

Zikode outlined who was present from the movement – the executive was represented, and there were the Kennedy 6 hunger strikers; the 14 arrested at the last march; and those who had been beaten and injured by police at the same march.

Ma Nkikine, from the Joe Slovo settlement and one of those arrested at the march (she was also shot 6 times in the back with rubber bullets), spoke. She remembered the names and actions of those who had continuously knocked down the shacks where she had lived during the apartheid times. The change since apartheid seems very little – and sometimes it feels like it was better before. She suggested that perhaps the church leaders can persuade the new political leaders, like Mayor Mlaba and President Mbeki, to change their ways. The Mayor sometimes comes to my church, he asks for blessings and this helps him to get elected. Maybe the church leaders can give their blessings to Abahlali baseMjondolo and strengthen it?

Mnikelo Ndabankhulu, who was arrested after the march, talked about the march and the police action. He stressed that, even though the movement had done everything it could to act within the law, the people were treated just the same as if it had been an illegal march – they were treated just the same as they were on June 16, 1976 in Soweto, or at Sharpeville in 1960. The police don t even fear God and they showed no respect for the priests and church leaders.

Shamita Naidoo, from Motala Heights, spoke about abahlalism from her experience of the unified struggles of African shack dwellers and poor South African Indians in tin houses at Motala. She said Abahlali baseMjondolo had awakened the Indians and showed them the light. They see that Abahlali is really fighting for something that is right. The movement is a help for those who cannot be heard, who are hidden, to be known and to speak for themselves. In this way, they can show how the poor are really suffering. Perhaps the church leaders solidarity with the movement can help to open doors to other communities who are hidden and silenced. It is hard work building the movement but it is good work and we present ourselves to the world in a deeply dignified way. The march was my first experience of such a thing and even people from the media commented to me how dignified and organised we were.

Louisa Motha spoke. She is also from Motala Heights. Echoing the words of one of the hymns sung at the beginning of the meeting, she repeated: “Nkosi sikelele” – but we are not yet blessed. The leaders of South Africa say we are free, but the poor are not free. Their 2010 [soccer world cup] is coming – but it will bring more arrests, more evictions, more demolitions; the street kids will be taken away to Westville prison to impress the international visitors. These leaders will need the prayers of the church leaders because they have sins, and the blood of children, on their hands. She said that the land and the resources on it are a gift from God for all the people. No one person can own what God gave to everyone. In your last days, you will need to ask forgiveness for what you have done to the poor.

M du Nqulunga was a hunger striker in prison. If it wasn t for the presence of the Bishop who visited us in prison and of God, perhaps I would still be there, in prison. I refused food in prison for Abahlali baseMjondolo. Our challenge to church leaders is to always be available – we were arrested before and it seems clear, we will be arrested again – so keep coming, day in and day out. Perhaps we should give a big thanks to [councillor] Yakoob Baig because his oppression has united all the people to make the movement strong. Abahlalism is bigger than land and housing – it is also socialism because we must socialise what we have and share all things in common. What is happening in the life of your neighbour, of the people next door, matters. We must think whether they have eaten today or whether they will be able to eat tomorrow. So we must prioritise humanity amongst Abahlali.

Sihle, also from Joe Slovo settlement, stressed that they have gained a lot since joining Abahlali baseMjondolo . We have heard about the history of struggles – even in 1976 to resist Afrikaans in our schools. They won this and one day too, we will win. During the apartheid times, we saw leaders of churches supporting the struggles and we need this again. Across all the denominations, we need the prayers for Abahlali baseMjondolo, prayers for their dignity because they are not respected. The experience of the march shows us that the virus of not respecting the poor is spreading from the political leaders to the police too who also showed us no respect when they gave us no warning to disperse but attacked us.

After these presentations, S'bu asked what do the church leaders say?

Nazareth priest, Baba Mkhize said he was initially surprised to hear about church leaders in the march – what were they doing coming into politics? But I have seen and listened to the points – especially that we struggle to bring back our humanity; and that we must be aware of our neighbour s needs. The struggle has raised important challenges to the church leaders. We used to feel proud and satisfied if our congregations filled up our churches on Sundays – but now we must think about the rest of their real lives – are they hungry and poor? Some church leaders are poor too. We usually do not hang our own dirty laundry in public because the people put their trust in us and we fear what they would think if they knew. Sometimes we say that we are fasting in a religious way – but this can be a sort of automatic fasting because we have no food actually. The local church leaders who are here in the settlements must come together, must pray together. Before the next big march perhaps, we will pray together. Even if these local churches are poor too, we can provide soul food for the struggle. We will pray for just one thing – a better life. The leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo must continue to bring challenges to the church leaders. I will report on these matters to my superiors in the church because now is the time to act.

Bishop Rubin Phillip of the Anglican church was grateful for the opportunity to be at this meeting and explained that he was Here to listen to you, to the people – I am not here with big answers and solutions. I need to learn how you believe the church can help in your struggle – you have taken the initiative, you have suffered, you know. In your successful march of the 28th, you have shown that you are not powerless but you are powerful, that you are determined to bring about change. That s a powerful thing to have decided. Good will come out of your march. I am here today as head of the Anglican church in this part and also the newly elected chair of the KwaZulu-Natal Christian Council. I will use my position and influence to help in any way that I can. I have been thinking hard about Sbu s question: “What is the church?”. Is the church made of the powerful and the middle-class, or the oppressed and the poor? If we are honest, the truth is that we have lost our way; we no longer stand with, march with, are in prison with, or take our place among those who still suffer, those who are still hungry. What is true is that we church leaders drop everything when we are called by the State President s or the Premier s offices. I think we like to mix with the rich and powerful – and they provide very good catering at their lunches! The church has been co-opted and has been made to forget its rightful place among the poor. Abahlali baseMjondolo helps us to re-discover our identity and our role. I have tried to listen carefully to what has been said. I have heard some of the following things:

* be in solidarity with your struggle – in marches, in prison, where ever it is necessary
* provide soul food for your struggle, gather together in prayer
* work with the people to play a role to really change the structures that cause pain, unemployment, hunger and all other sufferings of the poor
* be practical.

I will take these things to my council. We can call a meeting of wider church leadership and we would like you to come and make your voice heard, and help to create consciousness of these things. In the meantime, call on us, keep setting the agenda. This is the true church – or challenge is how to bring the leadership alongside. I am proud of the leadership of this highly respected movement. They can no longer ignore you and I offer a great word of appreciation for what you are doing.

Bishop Dladla said he would not repeat what others had already covered. He emphasised that the churches had not prayed enough. I support Bishop Rubin to unite all the churches here and I think we should organise a big gathering where everyone wears their church uniforms too. We don t need long stories and trying to put the blame on people but we must simply unite and say when will these people be free? . We must also pray for the leaders of Abahlali baseMjondolo because it is clear that, once they start speaking they become enemy number 1 and they are in danger. I was a shop-steward in the past. During negotiations with the bosses I never took any food and drinks that were offered because it could poison you. The churches must learn this too when they are invited to the Premier s offices.

Brother Filippo Mondini said, firstly, that A most powerful thing that Abahlali baseMjondolo has achieved is that you speak for yourselves, you are the masters of your own suffering, you know. So what the church cannot do is steal your voice again. You have won your voice and it is wonderful. It is also so important to acknowledge that there are churches in the settlements – engage with these people; learn and discuss how they read the Bible; discover with them that Jesus project was a revolutionary one – and so you carry on with what is already happening to liberate the gospel. This connection with Jesus revolutionary project and the Bible is not just strategic or political – the gospel is relevant to the struggle.

In his closing prayer, Brother Filippo remembered that God is like the good shepherd who does not abandon the flock when the wolf comes – and asked God to give the churches the same courage as Abahlali.

The meeting agreed to mobilise for a mass prayer gathering at 9am on 11th of November, 2 days before the next court appearance of the 14 Bahlali arrested at the march. If possible, we could connect this also with the solidarity actions that are being planned by the poor people in Turkey who have sent a statement of solidarity and who are planning to make a protest at the South African embassy there. We will pray that, in their actions, they will not be treated by the police like we were at our march.

Sunday Tribune

Front Page
Police action incurs church wrath

October 07, 2007 Edition 1

Lerato Matsaneng

Church leaders and the international Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions have slammed police over their treatment of informal settlement protesters at a march.

Abahlali baseMjondolo members marched to the eThekwini municipal offices in Sydenham last week to protest against forced removals, eviction from their settlements and the demolition of their shacks.

The protesters refused to leave until Mayor Obed Mlaba received their memorandum. Then, without warning, police, armed with a water cannon, rubber bullets and teargas, tried to disperse the crowd.

The Sunday Tribune witnessed the chaos as several people, including children, were injured and 14 people were arrested. They were released on R500 bail each.

Eleven church leaders, including Anglican Bishop Rubin Phillip and Dr Douglas Dziva of the KwaZulu- Natal Christian Council, were at the march. They said they had been shocked by the unprovoked, violent and aggressive action of the SAPS.

The leaders said they were upset when police charged people with violating the Gatherings Act and for public violence. They said the only violence inflicted was by police.

In the face of this violent attack by the SAPS, and in keeping with our vocation as church leaders, we will continue to stand alongside the poor as they struggle for the recognition of their own humanity and dignity. We cannot be silent while our brothers and sisters suffer such brutal injustice, said the leaders in a statement.
Father Filippo Mondini of St Joan of Arc Roman Catholic Church in Pietermaritzburg was allegedly beaten when he tried to stop police from beating protesters.


On Thursday police clashed with residents of Sea Cow Lake after they staged a protest against the demolition of shacks by the municipality. Roads were blockaded with burning tyres. Police Supt Muzi Mngomezulu said police had acted within the law. Police will apply minimum force where protesters are unruly, he said.

Centre on Housing Rights and Eviction, said the methods used by police were reminiscent of scenes in pre-1994 South Africa and were universally regarded as totally unacceptable.

The organisation has been studying protest activities in some of the country s cities and said it was appalled by the way in which police were treating protesters.

Cohre s deputy director, Jean du Plessis, has urged the eThekwini Municipality to become more attentive to shack dwellers concerns and has demanded municipality consultation in addressing land and housing issues.